Sunday, August 30, 2015

A break

Sorry, no homily today.

Father Dan Schmitmeyer, the Director for Vocations for the Archdiocese, was here this weekend, preaching at all the Masses.

Looking back, the last homily I preached on these readings was in 2009! Here are my notes if you're interested.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dinner plans: Chicken a la Zuhlsdorf!

Several weeks ago, I saw this recipe on Father Z's blog, and fixed it; and it was unbelieveably good!

So tonight I'm doing it again.

Sorry, no pictures; I was under a rush to get it in the oven in time.

Admittedly, I did tweak it a little. I omitted "extra zest"; I just stuffed most of the lemon inside the chicken; and in addition to pepper on the outside, I added salt. How can salt hurt?

Meanwhile, I got out some fresh spinach, which I bought Wednesday, which I'll saute with some garlic and olive oil, and then finish with some Parmesan cheese. I've made that many times.

I have Mass at 7, so I hope I can get to eat some before then. We'll see!

Update, 8:51 pm...

Ok, the chicken got in the oven late, so I had to turn down the oven during Mass. Around 8:15, I brought it out, here it is:

And here's the plate, with the sautéed spinach, and a glass of leftover wine:


The delay was not kind to the chicken. It was a little over cooked. Not. Bad, could have been much better. The spinach was delicious. The skin was excellent!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Why are there so many Eucharistic Prayers?

As we discussed at Mass recently, the Eucharistic Prayer is the prayer the priest offers, at the center of the Mass, recalling and making present Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. And while I almost always use the same prayer—the First Eucharistic Prayer—there are more than one.

This is a development since Vatican II – and, like many things we experienced in recent years, this was a change that was not envisioned by the Council at all. The best way to understand how so many things happened after Vatican II that weren’t called for by Vatican II is to remember the times; the 1960s and 70s were a time of experimentation and rebellion – and that affected the Church. Pope Paul VI, who was pope at that time, rightly or wrongly, chose to overlook some of it; and he gave recognition to several new prayers – we call these Eucharistic Prayer numbers 2, 3 and 4. In the 1990s, several more were approved. Some are called “For Reconciliation,” and others, for “Various Needs and Occasions.” There are a total of ten options.

No doubt you’ve noticed that I very rarely use anything but the first prayer, the Roman Canon. I am following the example of my predecessor, both because needless change is unhelpful; but also, because I agree with his preference. Here are my reasons.

1. The Roman Canon is uniquely a treasure of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is more than just Roman; there are Greek Catholics, Indian Catholics, Arab Catholics, and many others. What defines them is the way they celebrate the Divine Liturgy, aka, the Mass. That is true for us as well. This prayer was always the center of our worship until 1970, and my view is it should stay there.
2. I’m not against using the other prayers; I occasionally do use them, but only where need demands it—i.e., usually the demands of time or simplicity for the sake of those attending Mass.
3. When we take part in a shared ritual action, familiarity and steadiness are very valuable. That’s how the prayers become “ours” rather than merely “mine.” Notice how, when Catholics gather, everyone knows the Hail Mary – that’s because there is only one version. Then notice what happens with the Saint Michael Prayer; there are several variations, and when we pray it together, sometimes we stumble. Then notice what happens with the Act of Contrition: there are too many variations – we don’t have one, common version. In my judgment, the Mass should be a prayer that is, to the greatest extent, something we all possess together. Obviously some of the prayers, as well as the readings, need to change. But the rest? I think it helps us not to have so much variation.

--From St. Remy Bulletin, August 23, 2015.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

We reach the Garden, and eat from the Tree of Life (Sunday homily)

Triumph of the Cross, Tree of Life Mosaic; 12th Century; San Clemente, Rome.

We have three things to talk about today. 
This is the last of five homilies on the Mass. 
And we are remembering the dedication of our beautiful church. 
But we also have some business to wrap up 
with the Archdiocese’s “One Faith” campaign.

Let’s start with the Archdiocese “One Faith” campaign. 
You’ve heard things, seen things in the Telegraph or in our bulletin, 
or you’ve talked with someone about it. 

At this point, the ushers are passing out cards and pencils, 
which you’ll need in a moment. 

The Archbishop launched this drive last year 
to raise a very significant sum of money, 
in order to strengthen four major missions of the Archdiocese. 
His efforts are focused on education, vocations, 
retired priests, and assistance to those in need. 

The goal is $130 million, involving every parish, every Catholic, 
in the Archdiocese. 
Our parish goal toward that was $350,000.

It’s a lot of money. Where’s it going? 

Half will go to Catholic schools, 
as well as to support parish religious education efforts. 
Obviously, without a Catholic school here, 
this will not mean as much to us. 
But Catholic schools do play an important role in our archdiocese.

Sixteen million will go to support vocations to the priesthood. 
We have a growing number of seminarians – 
including three just from our parish! 
These funds will help lower the costs to our seminarians.

Thirteen million will fill a gap in the retirement fund for our priests. 
Ten million will strengthen the good work of Catholic Charities, 
and Catholic Social Services, 
in serving the poorest in our Archdiocese.

And then, 20% of the fund will come back to parishes for their needs. 
We will get a significant amount back ourselves. 

After discussing it with the Pastoral Council, 
those funds will be used, here, 
for a variety of repairs and maintenance issues – none critical – 
that we expect to come down the pike the next few years. 
For example, the parking lots are going to need some attention 
in the next few years, and that could be very costly.

The Archdiocese is about 2/3rds of the way to the goal, 
and our parish has actually exceeded the goal, 
with over $500,000 donated or pledged to date.
So, you might be wondering, OK, if we’ve reached our goal, 
why should anyone here give more?

Two reasons. First, because this is a project of the whole Archdiocese, 
the Archbishop is hoping everyone will take part, even if in a small way. 
Second, for every dollar beyond our goal, 
60 cents will come back to our parish. 

So at this point, you should have a card and a pencil. 
I’d like to explain what to do with it, briefly.
1. Please fill out the left side.
2. If you have already made a commitment to the campaign, 
simply check “Amen.” That’s all you need to do.
3. If you are ready to make a pledge, please check “yes.” 
Then please take a look at your options on the back side. 
You can make a pledge over several years, payable monthly, quarterly or annually, 
and mark it accordingly.
4. If you are still thinking about it, simply check “praying.”

When you’ve finished filling in the card, fold it in half, 
and put it in the collection when the time comes. 
And if you would return blank cards to the ends of the pews 
for the next Mass.

Now, let me pick up the thread from last Sunday. 
We were talking about the Eucharistic Prayer. 
And at the end of that prayer, the priest says this: 
“admit us, we beseech you, into their company”—
meaning the saints in heaven. 

And then, the priest lifts up the Body and Blood of the Lord 
toward God the Father, and prays, 
“through him, and with him, and in him”—that is, through Jesus—
“all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.” 
At that moment, the priest is pleading – 
for you, and us, through the Sacrifice of Jesus – 
to enter heaven!

What happens next? We stand up and we are bold to pray, "Our Father.” 
We aren’t approaching God as slaves, but as children, at home!
The next prayers ask for protection and peace; 
and then we offer peace to each other. 
You may recall, in my prior homilies in this series, 
I described Mass as an ascent up God’s mountain. 
We heard that in the second reading, too: 
we’re on Mount Zion, approaching the “city of the living God.” 
And as we come to the last part of the Mass, 
we are right there, in the center of the “heavenly Jerusalem.” 

Do you think I mean, “in heaven,” as a metaphor? Symbolically?
No, I mean it quite literally. Yes, we’re also here on earth. 
We still have our trials to overcome.

This brings us to the importance of our celebration today, 
in which we remember the consecration of this church 
for sacred worship. 
This is what a church is supposed to be: an embassy of heaven, 
here on earth. 
And that makes you and me ambassadors of heaven. 

When Solomon built the temple, 
you will read in Scripture 
that the interior was decorated with trees and animals. 
In the first book of Kings, we learn that 
“The walls of the house on all sides 
of both the inner and the outer rooms 
had carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers”; 
and later, we learn that some of the fixtures 
bore images of “lions (and) oxen,” and “pomegranates” and “lilies.”

Think about those details. 
What place does it sound like they were depicting? 
With trees, flowers, fruit, animals, angels…and God? 
That sounds like the Garden of Eden to me.

And recall that when humanity left the garden, 
they had eaten from the tree that brought death, 
but they had been prevented from eating from the tree of life.

So, when we come to the last part of the Mass, what do we do? 
What do we eat? Jesus told us: “I am the Bread of Life”!

Yes, when we are in Mass, we are in heaven. 
This place, this church, is truly a bit of heaven on earth! 
Jesus is here; the angels are here, the saints are here. 
Isn’t that heaven?

The one problem? You and I: we’re not fully heavenly. 
We’re not saints yet. 

So that’s why we have Mass here, every day. 
That’s why the doors are open, every day. 
Anyone who wants to be here all night? 
Let me know, we’ll do it. No problem. 
This is why we have a Sunday Mass obligation. 
It’s why we have confessions through the week. 

We come here to soak up as much of heaven as we can, and then? 
To take it with us. 
And the more heavenly we are, when we are at work, or at school, 
or with our families, neighbors and friends, 
the more people will ask: what exactly goes on at Saint Remy Church? What do they have?

We have heaven! And when the Mass is ended, 
we go to take heaven to the world.

Friday, August 21, 2015

About First Friday & First Saturday Devotions

I think many of us have heard of these devotions, but we may not be familiar with the whole story.

“First Fridays” are about devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Many saints have promoted devotion to the Lord Jesus’ human heart, as a way to emphasize both that the Son of God shares our very same humanity, and also his love for us. Over the centuries, sometimes an emphasis on the authority and holiness of Jesus has obscured the reality of his compassion and mercy.

In 1671, Margaret Mary Alocoque became a Visitation nun, and very soon after, she began receiving visions of the Lord. Jesus instructed her to begin offering a holy hour – this is where the idea came from! – on Thursday evenings; and to foster devotion to his Sacred Heart especially on First Fridays. He also told her that he wished for an annual feast of the Sacred Heart, which comes on the Friday after Corpus Christi. And Jesus told Saint Margaret Mary twelve promises for those who would observe nine First Fridays:

1. I will give them all of the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will establish peace in their homes.
3. I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
4. I will be their strength during life and above all during death.
5. I will bestow a large blessing upon all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall grow fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
9. I will bless every place where a picture of my heart shall be set up and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.
12. I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant all to those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

The requirements are: Confession, Mass and Holy Communion each First Friday – with confession coming within eight days, before or after.

Five First Saturdays’ devotion was revealed by the Virgin Mary to Sister Lucia Santo, one of the three children who received Mary’s messages at Fatima:

Behold, my daughter, my heart encircled with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. Give me consolation, you, at least; and make known on my behalf that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all who on the First Saturday of five consecutive months confess their sins, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the purpose of making reparation to my Immaculate Heart.

There are four elements of this devotion: first, Confession (up to 8 days before or after); second, reception of Holy Communion on the First Saturday; third, Recitation of the Rosary (5 decades); and fourth, 15 minutes’ silent meditation on one or more of the mysteries. All this is done with intention to make reparation to the heart of Mary. The communion, Rosary and meditation can take place the following Sunday “if a priest, for just cause, grants” that favor.

For more on First Saturday devotions, go here.

From Saint Remy Bulletin, August 16, AD 2015.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

We behold the God of Israel, and we eat & drink (Sunday homily)

In this fourth of five homilies talking about the Mass, 
I’m going to focus on the center of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer. 
I’ll be looking closely at the First Eucharistic Prayer, 
also known as the Roman Canon. 
You may want to take the missallettes out and open to page 14; 
I will refer a few times to the text, and you may want to follow along.

To save time, I’m not going to go into the other Eucharistic Prayers. 
No doubt you notice I almost always use this prayer. 
For those who are interested in the background of all that, 
I’ll have something in next week’s bulletin.

This prayer is very old; it was certainly in use in the 600s, 
and most likely, long before that. 
But we’re not sure how far back; very likely, the 300s, maybe the 200s.
Before that, we can only guess. 

Of course, the words at the center are those of Jesus himself. 
For many reasons, we can be confident 
that this part of the Mass has been constant 
since the time of the Apostles. 

When we listen to the Roman Canon, across all these centuries, 
and despite barriers of language and culture, 
we are hearing the voice of the ancient church of Rome. 
We are brought back to the time when the Mass was celebrated, 
not in churches, but in homes or at tombs underground; 
not in safety, but in fear of Roman persecution.

It might help to recall the imagery I’ve offered several times before: 
the Mass is an ascent; we are climbing up a mountain. 
When we come to this prayer, we very nearly at the summit. 
At this point we kneel.

Dr. Brant Pitre, who teaches at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, 
makes the connection between the Mass 
and an episode from the Old Testament, 
when Moses and God’s People were at Mount Sinai. 
After ratifying the covenant, God directed Moses, 
and the 70 elders of the twelve tribes, to come up the mountain. 
In Exodus it says, “and they beheld the God of Israel. 
Under his feet there appeared to be sapphire tilework, 
as clear as the sky itself. 
Yet he did not lay a hand on these chosen Israelites. 
They saw God, and they ate and drank.”

We arrive here, not with Moses, but with Jesus. 
The lowly priest – me – acts in his name. 
Or, better to say, Jesus the High Priest acts, 
using me, his unworthy servant. 
You are like the elders—part of the sacrifice.

The prayer begins by acknowledging the living members of the Church, 
including especially our pope and our bishop, 
but also for all of us, still on our pilgrimage. 
Later, we’ll mention those who have “gone before us”—
that is, those who have died. 

It’s fitting we mention the Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph, 
the Apostles, and other saints. 
This is painting a scene: imagine being in heaven, 
with all the saints gathered around! 
The priest bows his head as he mentions Mary, and then Jesus. 
Isn’t that what I’d do, if they were sitting right here?
They are here! All the angels and saints are present!

We beg God to receive this prayer, this sacrifice. 
It is Jesus’ sacrifice, but also ours. 
The offerings we bring are bread and wine—
as well as our many needs and cares—
and we beg God to make them “spiritual and acceptable.”

Many people mistakenly think the Mass 
is supposed to be a “reenactment.” 
It’s not. We aren’t re-creating the Last Supper. 
The Mass began there, but it wasn’t completed there. 
In one sense, the Mass was complete on the Cross, 
when Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” 
But in another sense, the Mass is “complete” in heaven, 
where the Lamb, slain but risen from the dead, 
lives ever to make intercession for us.

We often say the Mass takes us back in time; 
and that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. 
The Mass actually takes us out of time entirely. 
It takes us to heaven!

The Mass is a great “summary” of all that God did for our salvation. 
As I mentioned the other week, 
we recall God becoming man in several points. 
We hear the prophets of old teach us, as well as the Apostles, 
and Jesus himself, in the readings. 

At this point, we behold, before our very eyes, the heart of it all: 
Jesus is the new Adam, putting right what the first Adam wrecked. 
Where Adam of old turned his back on God, 
the new Adam raises his eyes to heaven, and offers himself. 
Where the old Adam rebelled against God at a tree, 
the new Adam obeys God, even to the point of death on a tree! 
The old Adam, fearing death, sought to steal divine life, 
and bequeathed death to his family. 
The new Adam faces death, and in dying, gives divine life to us all!

This is what we witness, kneeling at the summit of God’s Mountain. 
Jesus comes to the garden, 
and says what old Adam should have said, long ago: 
“Not my will, but thine be done”! 

And so Jesus takes the bread and wine – 
which were offered in the temple, and shared in the Passover – 
and anticipating the Cross, 
he calls them his Body and Blood—and so they are!

There is no other lamb at this Passover; Jesus is the Lamb. 
On Good Friday, he offers himself; in this and every Mass, 
we are united to that moment. 

The priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.
Remember what Jesus foretold? 
“If I be lifted up, I will draw all to me”! 

Next comes a part of the prayer that is called “the offering.” 
You will see it at the top of page 17. 
What the priest prays at the altar 
unites us to what Jesus did on the Cross; 
and what he did with his entire life; 
and what we does in eternity as he continually intercedes for us. 

Notice this refers to Jesus’ “passion”—
meaning his suffering and death; his rising from the dead; 
and his ascension back to his heavenly throne.

Then I ask the Father to look, not at us poor sinners, 
but at the Victim—pure, holy and spotless—
who has been slain for us. 

On your behalf, I ask him to “accept” this offering, 
foreshadowed by Abel, who offered an animal from his flock; 
by Abraham, who was ready to offer his firstborn son; 
and by the priest Melchizedek, who offered bread and wine.

Last week I talked about how this part of the Mass—
and what follows—have a “private” dimension. 
Can you see, now, why I said that? 
We have come to the throne of God; 
we are beholding God, begging for his help, 
relying on the blood of the Lamb of God to plead for us. 

Obviously, this mystery of faith is often put before the world; 
we broadcast it on TV. 
And yet, what do unbelievers see? 
They see people performing an ancient ritual. 
But with the eyes of faith, what do we see?

Remember what I quoted from Exodus: 
“They beheld the God of Israel…and they ate and drank.”

WE behold the God of Israel! And we eat and drink.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Turning toward Calvary -- and heaven (Sunday homily)

Three weeks ago, when I began this sermon series on the Mass, 
I described it as climbing a mountain—to Calvary. 
Last week, we looked at how we pause to listen to the Word of God; 
we also talked about how Scripture plays a role in the music of Mass.

Now, it turns out I stirred up some people with that. Sorry about that! 
Let me explain my purpose. 
I’m not talking about turning things upside down. 
So I am not proposing we stop using hymns. 
I’m just suggesting some additional options, 
which, by the way, we’ve used before I even got here.   

But yes, I did want to provoke some reflection. 
You and I are on a pilgrimage. 
We’re not at the Promised Land yet. 
Can we climb higher? Can we go deeper?  

At this point, we move from the first part of the Mass, 
the “Liturgy of the Word,” to the “Liturgy of the Eucharist.” 
In the early Church, people who weren’t baptized, 
confirmed Catholics would actually leave at this point of the Mass. 

Why would they leave? Think of a family. 
There are times when a family welcomes guests into its home; 
but more intimate family matters wait till the guests depart. 
When we pass into the second part of the Mass, 
we are entering a privileged moment. 

While the Mass today is entirely public, 
this part still has a private dimension: 
only those who really know, who see with the eyes of faith 
– realize the truth of it. 
Without the eyes of faith, people see, yet they don’t see. 
The mystery is hidden, despite being in full view!

So it’s fitting that we recite the Creed, 
identifying ourselves as believers who can enter this “private” moment.

And the prayers of the faithful, which come next, are also fitting here; 
because we are summarizing the prayers
we want to bring to the Sacrifice, where Jesus intercedes for us.  
But we know that many more prayers remain in our hearts.

So notice what the priest soon says: “Lift up your hearts!” 
And you respond: “We have lifted them up to the Lord.” 

I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to mention it again – 
the question of the posture of the priest at this point in the Mass. 

Many think this was something Vatican II changed; 
but it actually came after. 
And while it’s almost universal, it’s not a requirement. 

At this moment, I’m facing you, naturally, because I’m talking to you. 
But when I am at the altar in a few minutes, 
is it really you I’m addressing? 

Maybe you haven’t really thought about it. 
But at today’s Mass, pay close attention. 

Listen to the prayers I say there. 
Even if some of what I say there is directed to you, 
it’ll be clear that they are spoken not to you, but for you; 
and not to you, but to God.

Here’s what Pope Benedict said in his book, the Spirit of the Liturgy. 
When the priest faces the people, 
the priest…becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy.
Everything depends on him.
We have to see him, to respond to him,
to be involved in what he is doing.
His creativity sustains the whole thing.

Now, Father Amberger made a concerted effort 
to downplay this focus on the priest; and I want to continue that. 
But let me be candid about a way Father Amberger and I are different. 
He’s quieter and subdued; I’m not! 
Priests have always had different personalities. 
But don’t you see? 
When the priest faces the other way, 
he becomes, in a sense, “faceless.” 
It becomes far less about the priest!

Pope Benedict made the point that having the priest face the people 

…turned the community into a self-enclosed circle…
the common turning towards the East
was not a "celebration towards the wall";
it did not mean that the priest "had his back to the people":
the priest himself was not regarded as so important.
For just as the congregation in the synagogue
looked together toward Jerusalem,
so in the Christian liturgy
the congregation looked together "towards the Lord."

That’s the key: it’s about all of us turning together toward the Lord.

So, here’s the thing: I’m not going to make any huge change. 
But I would like to give you an opportunity 
to see what I’m talking about, and experience this. 

So how about this? On Saturday mornings, at the 8:15 am Mass, 
I will begin offering the Mass in this fashion. 
Come and see what you think. 
And please tell me what you think. 
I don’t expect everyone to like it; but you may be surprised. 
And if Pope Benedict is right, then you will experience some benefits. 

Let’s continue our climb. The readings emphasize food for the journey. 
Elijah needed strength for the journey; and in the Gospel, 
Jesus told the people that he, himself, is that food, the Bread of Life.

This is a good time to talk about how 
two different realities come together in the Mass. 
We understand that the Eucharist is food; and the Mass is a meal. 
But what can’t be lost is that it is equally a sacrifice. 

God’s People in the Old Testament had many forms of sacrifice. 
One in particular was the todah, or a sacrifice of thanksgiving. 
In this sacrifice, something would be offered in sacrifice; 
after which, the ones making the offering would eat the sacrifice. 
The best known of these was the Passover itself: 
the lamb is offered, and then consumed. 

The last line of today’s Gospel reminds us of this: 
“The Bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

This is one reason we use incense at this point; 
incense was always offered in the temple during the sacrifices. 

And the Book of Revelation mentions incense 
as a sign of our prayers rising to heaven. 
The priest incenses the bread and wine, 
but then the priest, and the people, too, are incensed. 
It isn’t just the bread and wine that are offered; we offer ourselves.

When all this has happened, the priest lifts up his eyes and—
speaking for the entire assembly—addresses the Lord God. 

It is “right and just” that this be sung, because it is so solemn. 
The prayer I’ll use today refers to the “paschal mystery”—
that means the new Passover, Jesus dying and rising for us. 
It may sound like we’re reminding God, but he already knows. 
Instead, it is we who are remembering. That’s what the Passover was.

But we also look forward. 
Notice the prayer I pray will mention “angels and archangels, 
thrones and dominions”—in other words, heaven. 

We aren’t journeying only to Calvary; but from there, to heaven! 

So it’s fitting that when the priest has prayed this prayer, 
all of us sing the Sanctus: “holy, holy…” 
It’s painted up there, over the altar. 
That’s what the prophet Isaiah heard, in the temple, 
as he was given a vision of the Lord. It is the song of the seraphim. 
I absolutely believe the angels do sing this at every Mass, 
but we never hear it; so we sing it ourselves.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Keeping up on the news

In a conversation the other day, a parishioner in his 20s asked me, "How do you keep up on the news? What sites do you go to?" At first, I was a little surprised by the question; but then, after thinking about it, why should I assume everyone is a news-consumer in the way I am?

So I thought I'd do a post about the more significant sites I rely on for news. Be advised! This is not an endorsement of any of these sites! I provided some notes below, to explain my choices.

The Cincinnati Enquirer -- hometown paper.
Crux -- a middle-to-liberal Catholic publication. Seems to be positioned as NCReporter without the crazy.
The Daily Beast -- liberal gossip page, run by and for dimwits. Why do I read it? I want to know what they're saying. 
The Drudge Report -- the originator of the news aggregation method. 
Instapundit  -- another aggregator, except it also includes brief commentary, which is usually very funny. The host, Glenn Reynolds, is a libertarian law professor with eclectic tastes. 
National Catholic Register -- a faithful Catholic publication, owned by EWTN. A good site, but not a large amount of news coverage.
National Catholic Reporter -- would be better termed National Heretical Reporter. Why do I read it? Two reasons. First, because they do cover a lot of stories. Second, because I want to see more than my own point of view.
National Review Online -- conservative publication, with commentary on news, politics and religion. Especially good for judicial news. 
RealClearPolitics -- disregard the name; it has pages of content on literature, science news, public policy, education, religion, history, technology, and more. Whoever runs this does an excellent job aggregating lots of straight news and opinion pieces, both left and right.
The Washington Post -- it's the Washington Post. 
The Week -- a newish publication; tends to be liberal, but has conservative content. 

Now, if anyone is keeping score, you'll notice I access material from across the spectrum. And these aren't all the sites I visit; they're just the main ones.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 02, 2015

About Scripture and music as part of Mass (Sunday homily)

As mentioned last week, in my homily for the next several weeks, 
I’m looking closely at the Holy Mass. 
This week I want to focus on the way we use Scripture at Mass, 
which goes beyond the readings.

The Mass obviously has many parts; 
and yet it is one, sustained prayer, from beginning to end.
Because this can be hard to appreciate, 
one of the principal ways we cultivate this sense of unity is with music.

And yet, I need to warn you:
what I’m going to say about music and the Mass 
may be different from what expect. 
It may even surprise you. 

I suspect a lot of us think of music at Mass 
as something that’s added to Mass.

Well, it’s true that this is often what we do—
at funerals and weddings, or on special occasions, 
folks will want to “add” this or that bit of music to the Mass—
but it’s not what we’re supposed to do!

Rather, the approach the Church intends is not to “add” music;
But rather simply to pray the Mass, sometimes in a musical form. 
In other words, singing the prayers of the Mass.

This the Roman Missal; 
it’s the book with all the prayers needed for Mass. 
This is the lectionary, which has the Scripture readings.  
The “missallettes” in the pews are abbreviated combination 
of both these books, for your convenience.

If we went through the Missal page by page, 
you’d see that every part of the Mass is intended to be sung, 
if not every time, then at least on special occasions. 
That even includes the Creed, the Eucharistic Prayer, 
and even the readings! 
By the way, in the older form of the Mass, 
this would happen at a “high” Mass: 
the readings would be chanted, not simply read.

While I will occasionally chant the Gospel, 
I doubt our readers will be doing any chanting! 
But stop and think the effect that would create, 
if everything were chanted, until you sat down for the homily.

Two things would be much clearer: first, this is one, sustained prayer. 
Second, we’re doing something really important. 
Because, after all, all that chanting is really hard – 
which is why we don’t do it all the time. 
So if we did do it, it says, “this is a big deal.”

So to repeat, we don’t so much add music to Mass; 
but rather, we simply sing the Mass. 
So where do the hymns we use at Mass fit in?

Again, this will surprise you, but it’s true: 
the guidance the Church gives us 
does not envision us singing hymns at Mass!

Let me refer to what’s called 
the General Instruction of the Roman Missal – that is, the “rulebook”:

When the people are gathered,
and as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers,
the Entrance Chant begins....

In the Dioceses of the United States…
there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
(1) the antiphon from the Missal
or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, 
as set to music…

Let me pause and explain two terms here: first, what’s an “antiphon”? 
That’s another word for a refrain, 
just like when we do the responsorial psalm: 
the part you sing is an antiphon.

And what is the Graduale Romanum? 
That’s just a name for a book 
of such psalms with their antiphons, set to music.

To continue:

 In the Dioceses of the United States…
there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
(1) the antiphon from the Missal
or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum… 
(2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex…—

That’s another such collection—

(3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons,
approved by the…Bishops…
including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
(4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action….

Did you notice? The first three options 
all speak of an “antiphon with its psalm”—
only the fourth option speaks of some other “chant.” 
When we use hymns, we’re choosing option 4. 

But isn’t it clear that the strong preference of the Church 
is to use psalm texts—that is, from Scripture—
as the opening chant or song?

By the way, the same guidance is provided 
when it comes to the offertory chant, 
and then the communion chant. 
Three times we have a procession to the altar, 
and all three times, the Mass envisions the people—
or perhaps just the choir—chanting a psalm; not a hymn.

Why does the Church want us to do this?

Well, what’s the difference between, say, Psalm 42, 
and “Amazing Grace”? 
The difference, of course, is that one is the Word of God. 

So why did we ever get to using hymns all the time? 
The answer involves some history.

The custom of singing hymns at Mass goes back 
at least to the late 1800s, in Germany, 
when people would sing hymns in German, 
rather than sing the chant which was in Latin. 

That was probably true elsewhere; 
and in any case, that same custom found its way to this country. 
Some of you may be old enough to remember, 
from the 1960s and before, when Mass was in Latin, 
you would still sing hymns in English.

Then, when the Second Vatican Council called for changes in the Mass, 
and the Mass was translated into English, 
guess what wasn’t translated right away?
Those collections of psalm texts I mentioned. 

It just took a while—many years—before they were translated, 
and then also set to music. 
It is just in the last ten years or so 
that these collections are easily available, in English, set to music.
It’s easy to see why something familiar simply continued.

So, what do we do with this?

Well, as I mentioned, the use of hymns isn’t “bad”—
but it’s the option of last resort. 
Carla and I have talked about this a few times, 
and I think it would be good if, over time, 
we made the attempt to move toward using the psalm texts 
that the Church encourages us to use.

If you look in your missallettes on page 215, 
you’ll see what’s called the “Entrance Antiphon”—
there it is, ready for us to sing, 
while the choir or the cantor would sing the rest. 
On page 217, it gives the “Communion Antiphon.” 
This book doesn’t provide the one for the offertory procession, 
but other resources do. 

Look, I’m not proposing a sudden or drastic change. 
But I would like to ask us to consider, in the years ahead, 
how we can move toward using psalms as the Church envisions.
That doesn’t mean we’d never use hymns, but use them less.

Let’s talk about the Scripture we just heard. 
They might seem to be about food, 
but I think they’re about something else: about trust. 

The people who grumbled in the first reading 
had witnessed so many wonders, 
and yet it didn’t take long for them to turn ugly: not much trust. 
In the Gospel, after Jesus, with a miracle, provided food for them, 
notice what they asked him: 
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” 
Again, not much trust.

As I said last week: Mass isn’t necessarily about what we like, 
but what we need. 
It’s what Christ does to save us. 
Part of that is asking us to stop, sit down, and listen. 
But to really listen is to be truly open. 
Will we let the Word of God challenge us, and change us? 

I don’t necessarily ask you to trust me; 
but I do think that for us as a part of the Body of Christ, 
the Holy Mass won’t be truly fruitful in us 
if we aren’t open and yielding. 

Recall Jesus’ parable of the farmer sowing seed. 
Some ground was rocky, some was thick with weeds; 
only a part of the field accepted the word, and it sprouted. 
What will you and I allow to sprout in our lives?

Saturday, August 01, 2015

'But Jesus never said...'

In the post from the other day about the Church's teaching on homosexual behavior, a couple of commenters raise questions about a perennial argument that comes up in various discussions about Catholic teachings that aren't universally acclaimed.

Here's one:

Younger family members like to say "the Bible says nothing about homosexuality. The word isn't even in the Bible. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality or gays."

The other is similar:

I can hear some of my more liberal Catholic friends saying that Jesus was only speaking in the context for that time in History and if He were with us today He would speak differently.

(If you go to the comments thread, you can see my answers to these questions.)

These are pretty common arguments; I imagine a lot of us have heard them. People make them sincerely; and a lot of people seem to think they're pretty good arguments.

They are very poor arguments. Here's why.

The first one is basically an argument from silence. Namely, that Jesus' silence means he either didn't care about that issue, or else...what exactly?

That's the problem with an argument from silence. What, exactly, does it really prove?

And, as stated, the first argument isn't even accurate in a meaningful sense. To be precise? Well, yes; the word homosexuality doesn't appear, because it's both an English word, and it reflects a modern way of thinking -- in terms of a homosexual identity or orientation. So, yes, there's no exact Hebrew or Greek corresponding word in the Bible. But it's totally nonsense to suppose that homosexual acts aren't talked about in the Bible.

So, to be plain, it's not a serious argument. And, if the person making that argument is a serious person, it would be fair to say that, in a charitable way. "My friend, you're smarter than that. Let's try for a more substantial argument than that..." And then, explain why the argument isn't serious.

And both arguments have another problem: the unstated premise, which needs to be brought to the surface: why does it matter what Jesus thought/said/taught about this? 

It matters to me, as a Catholic, because I believe Jesus is God incarnate. Everything stands or falls on that act of faith on my part. Does the person asking the question believe Jesus is God incarnate?

Because if Jesus is God incarnate, then...

It makes no sense to care only what the Gospels say, and set aside the rest of the Bible. If Jesus is God, then did he not -- as the second Person of the Trinity -- answer the question about homosexual behavior in what was said elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible?

And then there are those who like to say the Gospels are one thing, but Paul's writings are another. But again, this is silly. What makes you think the Gospels are reliable? Where did they come from? Jesus never wrote a word of them. You know who did? The Apostles, or those closely associated with them. So if you think the Apostle Paul is unreliable, why do you consider the Gospels reliable?

And if you say, no, Jesus is not God incarnate, then I ask:

Who cares what he thought? Why should anyone care?

The people who tend to ask these questions, don't tend to ask me; why ask a company man? But I'd invite those of you who do get asked these questions to try asking a couple in return:

> Why should I bear the burden of proof about what Jesus believed. You think he didn't object to homosexual acts? Prove it. What basis, exactly, do you have to such an extravagant supposition?

> Suppose -- for the sake of argument -- that I pointed to indisputable evidence that Jesus, did, indeed, believe X (whatever is in dispute). Will that new data change what you believe?

See, my guess is that the question is a dodge. The one asking it isn't really going to say, "wow, Jesus did say that--so I will now agree with the Catholic Church!" Instead, I think it's far more likely that the person will say, "Bummer. I don't like Jesus as much, then."

Now, I don't mean to assume everyone who asks these questions is insincere. Mostly, they aren't. But often people are not asking the right question. So why waste time and energy on the wrong one?

So my suggestion is to cut to the chase and ask: What difference will it make to you to know that Jesus did, indeed, teach ____?

In the end, the only question that matters is what Jesus asked Peter: "But who do you say that I am?"